Having made a radical shift in my lifestyle, I have the inevitable job of stepping back and reassessing my situation. What am I doing? Why or why not? Just who do I think I am? Explain.
First, I am the same person I was while working for Eppendorf in their Enfield, CT, facility, finishing up a 7-year stint as a back-office software specialist. That job was the rather quiet conclusion to a long career as a software developer and consultant specializing in collaborative software, primarily utilizing Lotus Notes. Writing Notes applications has kept me busy and fed my family for around 20 years, and allowed me to work for clients like MasterCard, Bayer AG, GE Capital, and FujiFilm. I rode the Lotus Notes pony into the sunset, and on this last assignment, I helped put a few of Eppendorf’s Notes applications out to pasture, soon to be replaced by other software. In any case, my part in Eppendorf’s destiny has ended for me. Nothing dramatic, no weeping, or for that matter, shouts of joy. It’s just over. Once in a while, one of my former colleagues may go, “Remember that guy Leslie? He’s the one who was always pounding the desk and swearing at his computer.” They might even remember to send me a friendly email once in a while. It’s a little like the 2002 movie “About Schmidt,” starring Jack Nicholson, where Schmidt tells the much-younger office manager on his last day on the job, “So you’ll be sure to give me a call if you ever have a question, won’t you?” The manager says, “Oh, sure, sure we will,” and it’s clear that no such thing will ever happen. So that’s where I am coming from. I am no longer a cog in that particular machine.
So here is where the quiz comes in: Which of these statements is correct?
- I am retired.
- I have stopped working.
- I am out to pasture.
Retired… First, I use the term “retired from my full-time job” to describe myself. But I haven’t actually stopped working, I just choose which things to work on. Stopped working… I have stopped doing the sort of work I did for Eppendorf, yes, but will continue working on what is important to us. Three tasks are on my plate at the moment:
- Contributing to this blog, and staying in readiness for our upcoming cabaret performance on 6 August, at St Marks Church, Edinburgh, at 3:30 p.m). The latter involves doing quiet lip trills on the mouthpiece in hotel rooms — especially when there is other noise to disguise it!
- Refreshing lyrics for songs we plan to sing. And do the occasional vocalise when it won’t annoy people too much. (Yeah, just up to the point where they are about to make a phone call to the front desk.)
- The rest is dealing with the basics of ensuring that we have a bed to sleep in every night, enough diesel in the tank, and enough Euros in the wallet. This is worthy employment for what we are doing right now, and actually a lot more relevant than providing anonymous software support. Out to Pasture?? It should be clear that I am definitely not. This quaint term for “have become a useless, idle person” does not apply.
The real challenge, for me, is dealing with all the change in my status, my purpose, my life. That is my real employment. I tend to describe myself as being open to change, relishing new challenges, blah blah blah. But I have found that I have a very real limit to how intensive the change can be before I cry Wait! Not so fast. One day, I had a full-time job, and the next, I had left that job forever. One day, we had a house in Connecticut, the next, we didn’t, and in fact we didn’t own any property at all! Everything, including the cars, were shed to help us focus on this grand trip. One day, I knew where all my stuff was (more or less), next day, no clue where most of it was. (What we kept, is now stored in a 10 x 10 storage cage in Newington, CT.) We are technically “homeless,” but not really; we just pick up our pallets and walk (actually drive or take public transportation) to the next stop in the journey. And most importantly, we keep recording the particulars of what we discover, and whom we meet along the way. Just who do I think I am? This is actually a serious question: what is my new role in society? Do I matter? Does what I do matter? Am I doing something useful? These are all actually trick questions, in that they usually come wrapped in the cloak of the Responsible Citizen, the Good Parent, the Reliable Employee. Well guess what?? The cloak is flying off. The answers to each of these is, respectively: Let’s work out the answers each day, and generally speaking, the short answers are Yes, Yes, and Yes. It is far from clear how it will all pan out, but there is only one way to find out.
When I was a young college graduate, my dad retired at age 62. My dad was a man of very regular habits, and retirement initially was stressful for him. He found himself without his familiar trappings, even though he looked forward to a new, relaxed phase. His blood pressure shot up, and he drove my mom crazy fretting about every detail connected with selling their house in Ramsey, New Jersey, and moving into the new home they built on Cape Cod. After a while, he calmed down, and my folks proceeded to have a wonderful retirement. I have had similar moments in this post-retirement phase of my life, but more days than not, it feels right.
By the way, here’s an update on some of the minor successes we have achieved along the way:
- I got used to driving on the weird side of the road, and haven’t crunched a single bumper, nor sheared off a single side mirror. Many times on our drive from Killarney to Doolin, we had very narrow, country roads, and frequently had to pull way over to let lorries (trucks) and tractors by. No sweat.
- I got an Irish SIM card from Vodafone, the local wireless provider here in Ireland, and this has given us a very powerful tool in navigating through Ireland, allowing us to search for whatever we needed, and use Google Maps to guide us to our destination. High five! Great success! (Hopefully there are a few Borat fans left out there.)
- Patrice found us suitable accommodations several times, with no more than a day’s advance calling ahead. Flexibility is a wonderful thing, if you can deal with a little uncertainty, and have decent internet. (see previous bullet)
All suitable employment, and we have been well rewarded.